There’s a hole in my bucket

Catching up.  What follows is from notes made in the field on March 4, 2012.

There is an old Calypso song that tells of a dialogue between a man and  a woman.  It begins with the man’s complaint about a hole in his bucket, apparently in response to the woman’s request to fetch water.  The dialogue continues as the man laments his inability to solve compounding problems (the straw too long  to use to mend the bucket, the axe too dull to cut the straw, and so on, back to the original):  the inability to fetch water (to sharpen the axe, to cut the straw).  Partnering with communities to take on complex and interrelated problems has a similar character.

They could have clean water by catching rainwater, if they had metal roofs.  They could store the water if they had cisterns.  The water could be purified if they had chloro in proper and dispensable form, and it could be stored for use during the driest season, if they had cisterns, and if the cisterns were large enough.

A similar story can be told about disposal of human waste, nutrition, and so many of the underlying problems of health.  We try to understand from their point of view and to engage with them at strategic points.

Others with good intentions sometimes complicate our efforts.  Imagine our friend with the holey bucket.  A good Samaritan comes along and provides straw for the hole.  Sadly, the straw is too long.   Our friend can make it work for now, but the wrong-sized straw complicates the problem — and in time, that straw will give out as well.  An NGO recently brought five cisterns (plastic holding tanks) to Chaguite.  These were given to people in five households, with no apparent logic to the selection.  It is possible that the NGO has a plan; that they will return with more resources; that they will work directly with people in the community to find equitable solutions that are forward-looking and sustainable.  It is not apparent that any of this is the case.

One thing is clear:  that some received this “direct aid” contributes to other residents’ sense of unfairness and expectation that a good solution would involve giving everyone a cistern.  Seen from a different perspective, it is clear also that the cisterns are too small and that they do not contribute much to a sustainable or strategic solution.  The 2500 liter containers provide enough water for less than one-third of the typical dry season.  They provide a capability to catch, hold, and use a tiny portion of the annual rains.

We have begun to describe our proposal for building on what we’ve learned from the community:  a strategy to bring all households to some minimum standard for access to clean water; a plan to capture more of the rainwater by using overflow techniques to direct excess water from individual cisterns into larger regional cisterns.  It is yet to be seen whether our approach, focusing on the capacity of collaborative effort, will be a convincing alternative.